Know Thyself

One of the scenes in Much Ado About Nothing sees the friends of Beatrice describe her faults. Beatrice supposes she is hidden, but the friends know full well that she is listening. When they have left, Beatrice steps forwards and concludes: “how happy are they that hear their detractions and can put them to mending”.

Self-knowledge and identity are themes that run through today’s readings in church. Isaiah’s message to those who seek the Lord:

Look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug.

Isaiah 51: 1b New Revised Standard Version

Our origins can be a significant part of our identity. In the Letter to the Romans members of the Church are urged “not to think of yourself more highly than you ought to think, but to think with sober judgment” (Romans 12:3b). Having an accurate self-understanding requires work and commitment. Lastly, in Matthew 16, Jesus questions the disciples about his identity and, in the same moment, we learn of Peter’s role as the rock on which the church will be built.

Understanding our own incompleteness is a prerequisite for growth. Only when we recognises our strengths and detractions can we be open to learn and to change. Like most people I always hear criticism more loudly than praise. Peter may have felt lifted up by the words of Jesus but it’s only a moment later that he is rebuffed as he attempts to intervene to prevent the suffering Jesus will undergo.

While Beatrice may have heard her faults discussed in an ad hoc manner, modern approaches to understanding personality are more systematic. There are many tools available to help us learn in greater depth about ourselves are how we can become more constructive in the way we work with others. We can’t change the “quarry from which we were dug” but we can learn to understand what that means for us and the ways we behave.

All of this has something to say about the way our formation as people can be furthered. For Christians the values which inform our understanding are orientated towards community and service. Like St Peter, we’re called to be ourselves in God’s presence – warts and all – and to discover more fully who God calls us to be.

It is already clear that the Covid-19 pandemic is testing people’s capacity to cope with a world that has become suddenly more dangerous and less certain. It seems that everyone is anticipating a rise in problems of mental health and wellbeing. In 2013 the successor of Peter addressed bishops in Brazil and spoke about human formation:

it is important to devise and ensure a suitable formation, one which will provide persons able to step into the night without being overcome by the darkness and losing their bearings; able to listen to people’s dreams without being seduced and to share their disappointments without losing hope and becoming bitter; able to sympathize with the brokenness of others without losing their own strength and identity.

Address of Pope Francis: Archbishop’s House, Rio de Janeiro Saturday, 28 July 2013

Impetuous Peter always took the plunge, as he did in declaring Jesus ‘the Christ’ and leaping into waves in order to meet him. Sometimes we feel we are sinking, and when we do, we need the hand of someone set on firmer ground. Someone able to “step into the night without being overcome by the darkness”. As the consequences of disruption in 2020 reverberate across the world we need those who feel at peace with their origins. People who do not think of themselves more highly than they ought and who, more than anything else, know themselves well enough to help in all the mending that will need to be done.

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